Criminal Justice News

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Victim advocates help survivors live again

by Air Force Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

5/1/2014 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska  -- A phone rang; the sound echoed throughout the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator office. Air Force Staff Sgt. Carly Smith picked up the receiver.

"JBER SARC hotline," she answered with a smile, not knowing what she'd hear on the other end of the line.

More often than not, callers simply have questions about the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. But then there are times when the calls are victims and survivors of sexual assault looking for help.

Whether it's educating a caller or helping a traumatized victim, that's what a victim advocate is there for.

"I think on a daily basis, I feel pretty good about being someone people can trust and count on to give them the right information," said Smith, a 3rd Munitions Squadron program manager and victim advocate at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. "It makes me feel like helpful support."

The purpose of a victim advocate is to be a liaison and support asset for someone who's been a victim of a sexual assault, walking them through the entire legal process. It's not just for the survivor, it's also for their family, command section and coworkers, Smith said. She has served in the role for four years.

According to the Department of Defense SAPR website, the goal for the victim assistance line is to provide high-quality services and support to survivors of sexual assault - to strengthen their resilience and instill confidence and trust in the reporting process.

According to the SAPR website, it is critical every survivor is treated with the sensitivity they deserve, the privacy they prefer and the responsive support they need. This consistent and effective response may inspire other sexual assault victims to come forward and report it. Reporting this crime is essential to deliver care and hold offenders accountable.

"I'm able to provide a service by helping people who may not necessarily realize that," Smith said. "It's almost like you never know which role you're going to play. Sometimes you may have to be a mother to help them through, sometimes you have to be a sister to help them get through their situation."

Either way, Smith said, "[When] I receive a call, there's a victim who needs somebody [to talk to]. Our biggest goal is to make sure they can be productive survivors."

According to the SAPR website, every branch of service offers programs to help. The Army uses the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention program; the Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and National Guard use SAPR; and the Coast Guard uses the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. The Military OneSource website is another resource, providing comprehensive information on multiple topics and counseling services. Through each of the SAPR or SHARP programs, victim advocates are the ones taking the calls.

People should call whether they have been assaulted, know someone who's been assaulted, or just have questions, Smith said.

It's a volunteer program and anyone with pay grade E-5 or above can help out. Once someone volunteers for the additional duty; their commander has to sign off saying they will be allowed to fulfill the responsibilities, she said.

"We attempt to recruit individuals who really have a caring and nurturing sense - who can openly help deal with someone," she said.

In addition to taking the calls, responsibilities include coordinating SAPR-related events and giving briefings to newcomers, at the First Term Airmen Center, commander's calls, outreach tables and self-defense classes, she said.

"They put their all into it," Williams said. "You don't necessarily get that anywhere or with everybody, so I truly appreciate that."

Smith said she wants to make a difference.

"For me, it means not only am I trying to change the environment, this base, the culture and the Air Force to help people get through situations," she said. "I'm very family oriented."

Victim advocates are the backbone of the SAPR program, said Darmaly Williams SAPR program manager.

For more information, call a victim advocate 24/7 at 384-7272 or 551-7272.

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